Brave New War: How conflict changed in 2015

The nature of warfare changed significantly during 2015, but most people are blissfully unaware. I think the new spectrum of warfare goes beyond what's mentioned in this article, but it's still good to see some journalists waking up to reality.

Peter Pomerantsev, Brave New War: A new form of conflict emerged in 2015:
From China in Asia to Russia in Europe and the Middle East, and ISIS just about everywhere, 2015 has seen the flourishing of conflicts that exist in a gray zone, one which is not quite open war but more than regular competition, which is attuned to globalization, which liberal democracies are ill-equipped to deal with, and which may well be the way power is exercised and conflict conducted in the foreseeable future.

Described by scholars as “hybrid,” “full-spectrum,” “non-linear,” “next-generation,” or “ambiguous”—the variations in the description indicate the slipperiness of the subject—these conflicts mix psychological, media, economic, cyber, and military operations without requiring a declaration of war.

In the case of Russia’s ongoing campaign in Ukraine... The point is not to occupy territory—Russia could easily annex rebel-held eastern Ukraine—but to destabilize Ukraine psychologically and advance a narrative of the country as a “failed state,” thus destroying the will and support inside Ukraine and internationally for reforms that would make Kiev more independent from Moscow...

China’s doctrine of the Three Warfares pushes these non-physical aspects even further, using “legal,” “psychological,” and “media” warfare to ... “undermine international institutions, change borders, and subvert global media, all without firing a shot. The Western, and especially American, concept of war emphasises the kinetic and the tangible—infrastructure, arms, and personnel—whereas China is asking fundamental questions: ‘What is war?’ And, in today’s world: ‘Is winning without fighting possible?’”

An immediate aim of the Three Warfares is to spread China’s dominion over the South China Sea...

In many ways, gray-zone conflicts are the dark flip side of globalization, where transnational media, economic integration, and the free movement of people create not a “global village,” but an environment in which we can all mess with each other in more insidious ways. Globalization also means, however, that states such as China or Russia are unlikely to declare full-on war. Why risk an open conflict they would probably lose when the aim is to preserve all the advantages of “positive” globalization—the global markets and foreign investments—while simultaneously harnessing these dynamics to subvert others.

All this leads to a situation where powers can be fighting each other with one hand and shaking hands with the other ...

Many Chinese and Russians would argue that Western countries are likewise waging gray-zone conflicts against them. After the Chinese stock market collapsed this year, Lin Zuoming, a powerful figure within one of China’s largest state-owned enterprises, insisted the crash was “without any doubt … an economic war” led by the United States to undermine the Communist Party’s rule...

But liberal democracies in the West can also find it very difficult to act in the gray zone...

While it is relatively easy for authoritarian regimes to fuse the efforts of military, media, and business entities, in democracies the interests of these groups are often diametrically opposed. For example: When the U.K. government signed a deal this fall allowing China to invest in a new British nuclear reactor, the money men at the Treasury were delighted; the moral men in the media appalled by the United Kingdom selling out on human rights; and the military men worried by Chinese penetration of British energy and telecommunications infrastructure.

Of course, Western powers can unite money, media, and the military to devastating and diabolical effect when a war is declared ... but they are more at a loss when responding to not-quite-wars that are undeclared...

It’s a brave new war without beginning or end, where the borders of peace and war, serviceman and civilian have become utterly blurred—and where you and I are both a target and a weapon.
The full spectrum of new warfare probably goes way beyond what's mentioned here, to include any type of covert attack, including drug warfare, all manner of "accidents" done covertly, and possibly even spooky technologies like weather warfare, seismic warfare, biological warfare, etc. A brave new world, indeed.

These are the terrifying fruits of diversity and globalisation: we can all mess with each other in more insidious ways.

See also Geophysical Warfare.

File under: Waking Up to Unrestricted Warfare.

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